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The next time you visit your family doctor, don’t be surprised if a medical student takes part in the appointment to observe or help provide care. Getting hands-on experience under the guidance of an experienced mentor is a key part of becoming a family physician.The new contracts recently ratified by doctors in Nova Scotia aim to support this important work. The contracts included a boost in funding for physician preceptors – these are the doctors who help train, mentor and assess medical students, residents and practice-ready assessment physicians in the province.
With family doctors stretched thin, many find it difficult to take time away from their busy practices to work with medical learners. This new investment may make it possible for more to take part.
Why all the fuss? Supporting physicians to train medical learners here in Nova Scotia can help boost retention and recruitment of doctors in our communities. It’s a chance to introduce potential recruits to the clinic, practice type, medical community and, most importantly, the patients who live in the community.
Mentorship starts early
Each May, first-year medical students at Dalhousie University take part in Rural Week. They fan out to learning sites across the Maritimes to visit local physicians in their practices and see what it’s like to live and work in a rural community.
In the third year of their training, medical students get more hands-on clinical experience as they rotate through clerkships in different specialties at hospitals and clinics across the Maritimes. A limited number of students can choose to do what’s called a Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship, where they work with a family doctor in one rural community for the full year. During their placement, they also learn from local specialists and other health-care providers in the community, helping build their confidence in rural medicine.
Boosting rural recruitment
Once medical school concludes, newly graduated physicians who want to become family doctors may opt to do their family medicine residency (usually another four years of training) in a rural community. There are five family medicine residency teaching sites in rural areas of Nova Scotia, with local family doctors playing a crucial role in supporting the new physicians.
Yarmouth family physician Dr. Abir Hussein is postgraduate site director for the Southwest Nova teaching site with Dalhousie Family Medicine. “The residency program is an asset to our community,” she says. “Residents bring new skills and knowledge to our hospital and provide exceptional care and services. They become part of our community and some of them do stay on.”
Clare family physician Dr. Michelle Dow echoes that enthusiasm. “My big passion over my career has been recruiting doctors to our area,” she says. Dr. Dow works with a committee of local physicians to encourage local students to return to the region for their practicums – as first- and second-year med students, but also during their residencies.
“We form a very special bond with our longitudinal residents,” says Dr. Dow. “After graduation, some may choose to stay and practise in a clinic such as ours where they can be mentored by the doctors working there.”
Enriching the profession
Mentorship often benefits the physician as much as the learner. For Barrington Passage family physician Dr. Kenny Yee, working with medical learners is not only an opportunity to train the next generation of physicians, it’s also a way to enrich his own practice of medicine.
“Teaching them helps me stay young,” says Dr. Yee. “We learn so much as younger doctors but we tend to lose that as we get older. [As a teacher] I keep learning and that keeps me fresh in my practice.”
Ultimately, having more support available for Nova Scotia physicians to train and guide medical learners today will help create a pathway to nurture and sustain physicians into the future.